Local laws in European countries can be very, well, specific. Here are some rules you’ll want to be aware of before you take your next trip.
Think common sense is enough to keep you on the right side of the law in Europe? Think again. Avoiding activities that are illegal in your home country is a good starting point, but it’s not quite enough. To skip potentially unpleasant encounters with locals (and in many cases, hefty fines from police), here are some destination-specific laws you’ll want to be mindful of—and more specifically, some actions you’ll want to avoid—while traveling in countries across Europe.
Making noise on Sundays
Germany and Switzerland
In Germany, raising a ruckus on Sundays, on holidays, and during late hours is a big no-no. Noise levels are kept to a minimum by law on Sundays and holidays from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m. That means no lawn-mowing, no drilling, hammering, sawing, or even heavy trucks on the roads. And forget about playing loud music or recycling glass bottles—making noise during Sonntagsruhe (German for “Sunday rest”) is considered a legal offense. Across the country, it’s also advisable to keep the noise down between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. throughout the week, thanks to a concept called Nachtruhe, which translates to “night’s sleep.” Quiet hours designated by law are also common in many parts of Switzerland, where another action considered off-limits on Sundays includes hanging your laundry outside to dry.
Snacking at historic sites
Forget about setting up a picnic on the Spanish Steps or sipping a to-go coffee on your tour of the Colosseum: As the famous saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do. . .”—which in this case, means leaving your snacks at home while sightseeing. In Italian cities such as Rome, Florence, and Venice, eating and drinking around public buildings and historic monuments is prohibited. In Rome and Venice, places to avoid getting caught munching on treats and shooed away by local police—then fined a hefty fee ranging anywhere from €40 to €240 (US$45 to $270)—include popular piazzas, historic fountains, and important monuments. (Disobeying these rules in Rome can even result in being temporarily exiled from the city’s center by local authorities.) In Florence, avoid snacking on sidewalks, shop doorsteps, or roadways anywhere in the city’s historic center. In 2018, the city imposed a ban on snacking-while-walking in the most popular streets of the city center during prime lunch and dinner hours, fining travelers who broke the rule anywhere from €150 to €500 (US$168 to $562).
Italy and Austria
Think twice before stocking up on bread crumbs to prepare for a snapshot of the famous pigeons in Venice’s hugely popular Piazza San Marco. In the UNESCO-listed Italian city, feeding these birds has been banned since 2008—and with good reason: Acidic excrement left behind by pigeons damages the delicate mosaics that adorn historic buildings and monuments. Because of this, fines for feeding pigeons in Venice can reach up to €700 (US$788). As of 2014, the Austrian city of Vienna also considers pigeon-feeding a fineable offense, levying a €36 (US$40) on-the-spot fee that anyone caught disobeying the ban will have to pay.
Leaving your passport behind
Germany, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain, and more
European countries such as Germany, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, and Spain require by law that individuals carry official identification (on their person) at all times. Unless you have an E.U. citizen card, this means you must bring your original passport, not a photocopy or your driver’s license. While it doesn’t always happen, it is legal for police officers and other ticketing officials to stop you on the street and ask to check your proof of identity (they might also check for a valid visa or residence sticker in your passport).
Walking around in your bathing suit
Local police in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca don’t care if you’ve just come from the beach. Once you’ve left the sand and the promenade, put a shirt and shorts on; strolling the streets of these Spanish cities in your bikini or trunks is not only frowned upon but it’s also illegal. In 2011, Barcelona banned bikinis on its streets, announcing that tourists who attempt to stroll beyond the beach in their swimswear and nothing more could face fines of up to €295 (US$333). The island of Mallorca followed suit three years later, issuing a ban on wearing swim suits on public benches, shops, museums, public transport, and in the city center—punishable by fines of up to €565 (US$637).
Wearing high heels at ancient sites
If you show up for a tour of the ancient ruins in Athens wearing your favorite stilettos, you may be asked to go barefoot. This is because in Greece, it’s forbidden to wear high heels at archaeological sites such as the Parthenon and the sanctuary at Delphi (as well as at many outdoor amphitheaters used for open-air concerts during spring and summer) because of damage the spiky shoes cause to the country’s historic sites. Greece’s “no heels” rule isn’t the only one travelers should be prepared for: If you’re planning on sightseeing at ancient monuments in the country, leave behind any food or drinks you might have with you, including chewing gum.
Running out of gas on the road
While running out of gas itself is hardly a crime in Germany, stopping on the country’s famous Autobahn for any reason that’s not an emergency is illegal. If you forget to fill up your tank and end up sputtering to a stop on the federally controlled high-speed motorway, be prepared to receive a fine. The fee is normally €70 (US$79), but it can go up a significant amount if your stopped car is the cause of an accident.
This article was originally published in July 2016; it was updated on June 5, 2019, to include current information.